Sharks can be hard to love with their dark black eyes and powerful bites but every year, over a million viewers tune in to Discovery Channel’s shark week.
If this year’s shark week leaves you wanting more of these toothy creatures, then venture to 1 of 15 shark sanctuaries for close encounters with ancient predators.
Shark sanctuaries are a good pick for shark tourism because their aim is to prohibit practices that harm and kill sharks including finning, which is the main reason an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually. Travel to a shark sanctuary and watch apex predators in their natural habitat.
Palau is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean and was the first nation to create a shark sanctuary. The 200 islands that make up the archipelago are truly pristine, blanketed in deep green forests and surrounded by a turquoise lagoon.
Palau is a diver’s paradise. Not only is the water clear but there are shipwrecks and WWII relics to explore. Shark finning, the practice of capturing sharks to cut off their fins to sell, was rampant off the coasts of Palau before the shark sanctuary was put into place.
Several shark species call Palau home. The sleek grey reef shark is common in the area. The grey reef sharks in Palau are usually darker than grey reef sharks around the world because their skin tans well in the tropical sunlight.
The small and cute leopard shark loves shallow waters and is a common site around Palau’s coast.
Whitetip reef sharks are another common shark species in Palau. They are curious of divers and will approach divers when they enter the water. They are small and won’t attack however.
The Maldives is a tropical nation located in the Indian Ocean. Made up of over 1,000 islands and miles of coral reefs, the Maldives provides prime diving opportunities.
These islands are perhaps best know for their luxury hotels however the Maldives now allow independent travel. You can backpack through the islands and interact with locals rather than be confined to a resort.
The islands’ coasts are a haven for about 26 species of sharks. Whale sharks occasionally pass by during monsoon season. At an adult length of 40 feet, they’re the largest of living shark species. They are gentle giants however, eating krill or plankton. Divers can “hitch a ride” by grabbing onto their fin.
A few large species frequent the area including tiger sharks, scalloped hammerheads and shortfin makos.
If calm sharks are more your speed, look for the zebra shark. Zebra sharks grow up to 8 feet however they are docile and slow-moving.
Saba is a small and relatively unknown island in the Caribbean. This island is a municipality of the Netherlands. A large, potentially active, volcano makes up most of the island and is also the tallest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The volcano lends the island a mountainous landscape, jutting out of the ocean. Because this island is not a tourism hotspot, you won’t have to fight crowds or hunt for an authentic experience. The waters around the island are also clear of divers, so those that do venture into the water will find uncrowded beauty.
Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks and tiger sharks are common in the area. Occasionally, hammerhead and whale sharks visit and in the winter, you can hear whale songs.
Soft, sandy beaches and rich lagoons await you in New Caledonia. This island is a special collectivity of France in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Mountains cut down the middle of island and thick vegetation covers the east coast. The west coast is arid and multicolored hills make up a richly biodiverse landscape.
Underwater is just as rich an environment. New Caledonia has the world’s second largest coral reef. The reef provides plenty for sharks to feed on. Grey reef sharks, whitetip sharks, and nurse sharks are common in the area.
You may also see silvertip sharks cruising around. Silvertip sharks can grow up to 10 feet long and sometimes swim out of deep waters to check out divers, an intimidating experience for anyone not accustomed to sharks.
Other shark sanctuary locations are: The Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Honduras, The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, the British Virgin Islands, and St. Maarten.